The Hitchhiker's Guide to the House Immigration Discharge Petition

214. 215. 216. 217. 218.

The goal is 218. But it’s unclear if they’ll get there.

We’ll know soon if a coalition comprised of many House Democrats and some Republicans will successfully make an end run around the House GOP leadership. Securing 218 signatures on what’s called a “discharge petition” in the House could prompt debate and votes on a sequence of immigration and DACA proposals. Such a maneuver goes against the wishes of GOP leaders.

The number of signatories to the discharge petition is locked at 213 since the House abandoned Washington May 24 for the Memorial Day recess. Eight House members signed the discharge petition that day, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and two Republicans: Reps. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) was the last member to sign, clocking in at 213.

But two questions: Can supporters obtain 218 signatures? And does anyone in the House truly want to be number 218? After all, the discharge petition rests on the dais in the chamber when the House is in session. There is a line for each signature, designated by a number. For good or ill, someone will bear the moniker “Mr. or Ms. 218” if the discharge petition is to be successful.

House rules dictate the body can only consider a discharge petition on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. The original House calendar slated the House to meet on Monday, June 11 – the second Monday of June. But House Republican leaders scrapped that date and re-tooled the week so the House would meet next Friday, not Monday. Little was said about this sleight of hand at the time. But the concern was obvious. The GOP brass didn’t want discharge petition supporters to get two chances in June to go over their heads and deposit an immigration debate on the floor.

So, the next available date for a discharge petition to ripen for consideration comes on the fourth Monday of the month: June 25. However, House rules dictate that a discharge petition must command the necessary signatures seven legislative days in advance (e.g. - days when the House meets). In reality, this means supporters of the petition must marshal 218 signatures by around June 11. The next eligible discharge petition date in the queue falls on July 23.

Backers of the discharge petition are frankly running out of track. Due to resignations and a death, House membership stands at 428. Only 23 of the the chamber’s 235 Republicans have offered support for the petition. All but three of the House’s 193 Democrats have signed. Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Filemon Vela (D-TX) and Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) all represent border districts in Texas. That trio objects to the discharge petition because of President Trump’s border wall. They’re concerned one of the bills plonked onto the floor could prompt construction of the wall. But the House wouldn’t get to 218 even if Cuellar, Vela and Gonzalez do sign. Whether its three signatures or five signatures, Democrats can’t pull the discharge petition across the finish line themselves. The final signatures must come from Republicans.

But is that even in the offing?

Who might discharge petition supporters coax to sign?

The most obvious candidate to sign is Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa is retiring after narrowly winning re-election last cycle in a swing district southern California. Issa has bucked his party before, voting nay on the final version of the tax reform bill.

At first blush, one might think Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) would be another possible signer. Donovan is a moderate Republican who also rejected the tax bill. Donovan’s the only Republican who represents any part of New York City. Donovan’s district covers all of Staten Island and a spit of Brooklyn. President Trump may hail from Queens, but Donovan’s district is Trump country. President Obama narrowly carried the district in 2012. But Mr. Trump won it by 10 points two years ago. Donovan is now locked in a tight primary with former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY). The president just endorsed Donovan in his primary.

Moderate House Republicans or those who represent battleground districts fall into the next tier of scrutiny for the discharge petition. Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) is a freshman in a district he flipped from blue to red last cycle. But DACA isn’t a major issue in Omaha the way it is in some other U.S. cities. Other moderate GOPers or those who represent swing districts? Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) would be one. He’s retiring.

Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA) could be another possibility due to some of her moderate tendencies.

Then there are committee chairmen like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX). But the biggest impediment to this troika signing is the fact that, yep, they chair committees. Royce, Frelinghuysen and Sessions serve in those roles serve at the pleasure of the Republican brass.

Still, Royce represents a district carried by Hillary Clinton, and he is retiring. Frelinghuysen’s district is a toss-up and he’s quitting. Sessions also represents a district carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Who else? Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) represents a swing district on the border. But McSally’s now running hard to the right to outflank other conservatives in a bid to capture the Arizona GOP Senate nomination.

So it’s not clear where discharge petition backers can unearth the final five to sign. House math is hampering them. There are only 428 members in the House and not the full membership of 435. A membership deficit of seven members could prove fatal to the effort. Consider this: Former Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) resigned. The late Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) unexpectedly passed away. Former Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) represented a district that may be in play this fall. Conyers and Slaughter would have signed the petition, few questions asked. Meehan may have been a candidate to sign as well.

The GOP leadership is scrambling to engineer agreement on a separate, conservative immigration bill and stave off the discharge petition revolt. At this point, it’s hard to see how that measure commands 218 votes. And, at this point, it could be a stretch for the discharge petition to muster 218 signatures, as well.